One cartridge to rule them all

Quick, think of a cartridge/chambering that you can do everything with using factory ammo. Let’s run through the possible candidates:


  • 9mm: 9mm is great for teaching new shooters and for self-defense, but not so great for harvesting game. I wouldn’t want to shoot an Indiana whitetail with a 9mm unless it was a contact shot.
  • .40 S&W: Hahahahaha no, .40 sucks. It’s terrible for teaching new shooters, and no better than 9mm for personal defense.
  • .45 ACP: I actually like .45 more than 9mm as an all purpose cartridge, because if you happen to have a .45 carbine sitting around, you can run some hot factory loads in it that will make it almost acceptable for medium game. It falls down in that it’s not great for teaching new shooters.
  • .22 LR: Great for newbies, target practice, and small game. Lousy for personal defense.

When you really look at it, the only options for truly all purpose cartridges are revolver cartridges. Break down even further, and the one cartridge to rule them all is the combo package of .38 Special and .357 Magnum. Think about it for a second. You can go to Wal-Mart and buy super light loaded .38 Special LRN for casual plinking and training new shooters, you can get +P defensive ammo, or proper .357 Magnum for self defense. You can even buy factory .357 Magnum ammo that will kill most things that walk in North America. Plus, the guns chambered for this combo run the gamut from small defensive revolvers all the way up to sexy bolt-action carbines, or lever guns if you’re so inclined.

I’ll accept arguments for other cartridges in the comments, but you have to make a strong case for your round. I will accept Magnum/Specials as one family of calibers since anything that shoots .357 Mag will shoot a .38 Special. So .44 Magnum/Special would be one caliber.


  1. I completely agree with the .357 magnum/ .38 special as a great all around cartridge. I’m still waiting for Ruger to come out with a semi auto Deerfield chambered for it. I won’t hold my breath though…

  2. I’d say the .38/.357 over the .44 spec/.44mag only because ammo costs, if you handload go for .44.

  3. I think you’re right. A ruger GP100 on your side and a Marlin 1894CSS in the truck and you’d be set. How awesome would it be to be able to eject a few shells from your rifle and throw them in your handgun? Sure you can do this with a pistol caliber carbine (9mm or 40S&W) but, to your points above, that would be stupid. A .357 is a solid deer rifle, at reasonable distances, and a more than adequate manstopper. With the option of stepping down to lighter loads its almost a no-brainer.

  4. Totally agree that is why I have own for many a years my Marlin lever gun to match my Colt Python I inherited from my grandfather. Which is still my favorite of my collection.

  5. 10mm Auto. You can run it in a CCW gun (Glock 29), a full size pistol (Glock 20, 1911’s, Tangfolios), or even a revolver if it suits your fancy (S&W 610). I personally have used a Glock 20 for taking game, Ted Nugent is a strong proponent of it, and Wilson Combat, among other 1911 manufacturers, make 10mm’s specifically for hunting. As far as carbines go, there’s 10mm MP5’s and clones, or there are a few 10mm AR15 pattern carbines floating around using proprietary mags (Olympic Arms), Glock mags (Double Diamond Law Enforcement Supply, Lone Wolf Dist.), or modified grease gun mags (Cavalry Arms/GWAC MK II, Bazooka Bros., CNC Gunsmithing AR45).

    The major advantage that the 10mm has over a .357 magnum is that you can run it in semi-autos (other than the Coonan), and for some people being limited to revolvers and lever actions is a deal-breaker.

    1. I agree with James, the 10mm Auto can almost be thought of a intermediate pistol caliber.
      Right off the bat it’s more powerful than the .357 or the obsolete .41 Magnum and generally has more muzzle energy than the .45 Automatic.

        1. Except when training NEW SHOOTERS….otherwise, thats the only auto caliber that matches your requirements.

  6. If ammo & component availability are similar, I would definitely vote for the 38 super. It can be loaded light just like a 9mm or high (almost like a 10mm) safely. You also get to keep 17-18 rounds in a conventional double stack magazine.

  7. I’ll have to second the 10mm auto. Then disagree with the “40 S&W sucks” comment as the two are of identical caliber much like the 38special/.357magnums proposed. As far as splitting the difference between .38/.357 I’m not sure how many know that 9mm does just that being a comparative .355 to the .357 caliber of the two mentioned revolver rounds and delivering pps” energy #’s right between the two. that said, none ove the other mentioned pistol rounds deliver the standard 550+ pps” energy that the 10mm auto does. If one can master sight picture/trigger control they can effectively manage just such a weapon new or not. & that’s MY experience/opinion…..

        1. I’m sure your 9 year old is an excellent shot. However, no one who actually teaches new shooters professionally would recommend the 10mm as a beginner cartridge. Plenty of instructors do recommend .38 Special though. We call that a clue.

          1. While I’ll admit that the 10mm wasn’t the first pistol I trained him to use, his first semi auto WAS a .40 with which he can negotiate our local dept 36 shot qualifier consistently. That said, perhaps you meant to call your “one cartridge to rule them all” piece “one cartridge for the beginner” Just a “clue.”

          2. No, definitely meant to call it one cartridge to rule them all. You can use .38/.357 for basically anything. You can’t do that with 10mm, and you certainly can’t do it with .40.

            Also, a 36 shot qualifier is a joke.

          3. All “sniping” aside, the arguments have the potential to complex the issue well past the point of keeping the readers interest. semi-auto vs revolver/varying grain weights of projectiles/confidence of the individual/those that instruct/hunting vs self protection/is bigger better ect. I liked the quote “if you can’t explain something well enough for an 8 year old to understand that you really don’t understand it well enough yourself.” That said I was able to accomplish this myself by explaining to what was at one time my 7 year old that shooting is a mental process, all noise and recoil aside, by example. That said, anyone big or small can learn a weapon system if given the proper perspective.
            Respectfully, a father and a son.

      1. Prvi 180 grain 10mm clocks at about 850 fps, which about matches the free recoil of the 158 grain 38 special. Feels less snappy than a 9mm, that’s for sure.

  8. I’ve dropped a whitetail in its tracks with 40SW, but that said I wouldn’t recommend it for most. You just can’t beat 38/357 all around.

  9. I have a 4″ 686+ in-bound to my FFL right now, soon to be followed by a 642. ‘Down the road’, my heart beats for a Model 92 chambered in 357.

      1. 4″ 686-4 here with a 642 as well. I would like to pick up a lever in .38/.357, but the new Ruger has caught my eye as well. If they came out with that in the American Rifle series I would definitely go for that one.

      2. The 686+ is my preference for a general-purpose wheelie. A 7-chambered GP100 would be better if it existed. C’mon, Ruger, we know you can do it.

  10. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the .357 is a separate cartridge than a .38 special is it not? Or is Cartridge not the same a ‘bullett’?

    For my money it has to be the .45 ACP – yes it has a kick, but if you teach with this caliber and they learn with this caliber then it teaches respect for the weapon, requires their fundamentals to be sound, and then almost any other caliber is easier to work with. You can get sloppy with a .22, but you have to use those fundamentals with a .45. Not to mention the power and pervasiveness of the .45 ACP, you can find ammo almost anywhere and use it in most anything from various handgun models to carbines.

    1. You’re correct, but I classified any Special/Magnum pairing as one, since any .357 revolver or .44 Magnum revolver can fire the equivalent Special.

    2. Under the .38 / .357 rules you can go from light .45 loads for instructing to hot .45+P or even Super and do about the same energy on the top end (assuming 5″ .45 and 6″ revo). Might take a spring change to be ideal.

      .45 is compatible with revolvers, there are carry options from derringer to micro-semi auto to service pistol giving up nothing in capacity, and there are semi-auto carbine options – so there is similar breadth of use.

      Plus, with a drop-in kit you can take your carry .45 to .44 Mag energy levels with .460 Rowland and not have to change reloading components.

      That was how I made my decision anyway.

  11. My first thought was also .357/.38, but then I realized that there is one thing you can’t do with it, or any cartridge listed so far: kill birds.

    So I’m gonna have to go with 12 Gauge. Birdshot for small game and the range, slugs for big game, and double aught buck for defense.

    1. They do make shot shells in 38/357, 9mm, 40S&W, 45ACP, 45LC, 44mag/spcl; no they only make one size of shot, but it is shot none the less.

    2. Excellent choice, however if you have a rifle and a wish to hunt small game, all you really need to do is know how to bark a squirrel or bird. Basically you hit the tree branch in front of them and the branch fragments and stuns/kills the small game. If you don’t have a small caliber rifle (which you really should have)

    3. Actually you can, , you’re just not supposed to. And good luck carrying a full sized shotgun concealed everyday as a regular civilian, and then good luck with a rapid draw against an armed assailant.

  12. I’ll throw out a couple others 32S&W Short/Long, 32HR mag & 327 mag; all can be shot from the same weapon; though there is no rifle available in 327 to my knowledge, but you can get 32HR rifles. Then there is the 45LC which my 15 year old daughter had no problem shooting out of an S&W 460V. So, the 45LC can also be shot out of many revolvers capable of shooting 410 and the 45LC can also be shot out of the 460, which also handles the more powerful 454 Casull and 460 Magnum. Since technically the 38 & 357 are not the same entirely, I believe the 45LC/410/454/460 are in the same realm. From a laid back 45LC 250gr Cowboy load, to a screaming 460 200gr or hard hitting 460 335gr. I can use the 45LC/410 for self defense in a Judge, Governor or Bond Derringer. I also have a rifle that can shoot the 45LC or the 410 shells.

    1. Ooohhh, excellent choice with the .32 Magnum combo. I have a total hardon for .32 cal cartridges and have always wanted an SAA in .32-20.

  13. The article seems to suggest that there should be a single round for all purposes. Well, you can use a roofing hammer to drive a railroad spike, but it’s not the best tool for all purposes. A shotgun has the best all-around utility from birdshot to buckshot to slugs. Its’ best load is the one that is tailored to your current task. If you’re trying to shoot a .357 at quail, first, good luck to you and second, enjoy cooking the bits that you scoop up if you manage a hit.

    Now, if you’re asking what handgun I’d want to be stranded in the wilderness with, it might be a .357 but I’d want some snakeshot, some .38 and some .357. How can you switch between that quickly? You can’t. Plus, if you carry all of that in any kind of quantity, you’re hauling a load.

    I gotta say, as a BUG, I like the Bond Arms 45 LC / .410 for multiple purposes with minimal weight penalty. But if I am really, truly limited to a single cartridge in a single caliber for anything within 50 yards, I’m going with my beloved .38 super +p. It shoots flat and straight, you can fit a lot into a mag and it has higher muzzle velocity than standard .45. Cor-Bon and some other folks have loads are comparable to .357 SIG at around 1350 to even 1400 fps.

    Now, there aren’t any long guns that I’ve been able to find in .38 super (although it is said the Thompson SMG had some variants in .38 super and I’d give my eye-teeth to try that) so that’s a shortcoming. Then again, I’m not going to hunt moose with a handgun. That’s just me. I’d go for pigs, turkey, and miscellaneous small game.

    The day a reputable 38 super is made in carbine or scout length is the day I buy it and challenge the 357 owners to put up their 1894 lever-actions and wheelguns against my 38 super semi-autos.

    1. You could check with a good gunsmith about re-working one of the .45 carbines to .38 Super. The 9mm/40 carbines may not have enough room for the Super, which is a comparable length to the.45ACP.

  14. As far as a great cartridge for handguns, the 357/38 family is a hands down winner (second place going to .44 mag/.44 special because I have a soft spot for revolvers). That said, I’m gonna second the notion and say the best all around cartridge is a 12 gauge shotgun shell. Everything from light birdshot loads to heavy slug loads. You could take a deer from 150 yards with a sabot slug, or go bird hunting with no. 7 shot. Or you could defend your home with buckshot (assuming you are well trained enough to know that shotguns aren’t mythical hammers of Thor). I would be ultimately happy to have a .44 Ruger Redhawk and a .44 mag lever action carbine. That would very nice and I would consider myself armed for every occasion.

  15. Another advantage of .38/.357 is that straight walled cases are ready to reload, and can even be loaded with hand-cast lead and black powder, if you’re one of those TEOTWAWKI types.

  16. I suppose when you set up the rules to support your argument, .38/.357 wins. Indeed, you are classically “Begging the question” – providing what is essentially the conclusion of the argument as a premise. It’s “One cartridge to rule them all” or it’s “two cartridges in several different loads to rule them all.” Methinks you need to re-title the entry.

    1. That is quite literally the first time someone’s used “begging the question” correctly in the comments here. I award you five points.

      And then I’m taking them away for using “methinks.” 😉

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